Louis William Greve

We have included Louis Greve because of his commitment and involvement in air racing during the Golden Age.

Louis William Greve was a prolific inventor, an aviation pioneer, an industrialist and a civic leader. Louis Greve was also known as Lou, L.W. and in the aviation arena many called him "Papa Greve" for his generosity and support.

He was born in Cleveland, Ohio on November 2nd, 1882 to Claus and Clara Greve. In 1900, he graduated from Cleveland's Central High School. Two years later, he went to work in his father's company Cleveland Pneumatic Tool. Claus Greve noticed early on that his son had a great aptitude for mechanical devices and design. Combined with a modest and hard working personality, Lou began his career at Cleveland Pneumatic Tool as an office boy. He progressed to mechanic and continued to learn the pneumatic device field from bottom to top.

In 1931, Louis Greve succeeded his father as president of Cleveland Pneumatic Tool and Cleveland Rock Drill. Other titles he would hold include; president of the National Air Races, president of the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce, director of Central National Bank, president of the American Drop Forging Institute and advisor to the Presidential War Advisory Board.

His father fully supported Lou's innovations and product improvements. In 1903, Lou began submitting the first of his 46 patents. His first patent was awarded in 1904 for his impact tool design, now widely known as the "jack hammer".

Some of his other personal patents include; early automotive shock absorbers (air springs), shock absorbers for aircraft (3), aircraft struts, aircraft shock absorbing pedestals, amphibian shock absorbers, aircraft shock absorbing struts(2) and landing wheel mountings for aircraft. One of Lou's shock absorbers for aircraft was manufactured as the "Aerol Strut". In 1927, Lou sat on a board attached to the bracing struts of a taxiing plane to take motion pictures of the action of the first experimental set of Aerols. This particular landing gear apparatus made take-offs and landings smoother and safer. Aerols would make landings for bombers and military aircraft viable on the limited, unsteady deck space of carriers. The first take-off of a bomber from a carrier at sea was aerol-equipped.

Aerols would become widely accepted and standardized for all sectors of aviation. Admiral Byrd's aircraft was outfitted with Aerols for his flight to the South Pole. 

In 1935, the first successful retractable landing gear units were Aerols. In 1929, Lou was appointed to the position of president of the National Air Races in Cleveland. He had played a major role in securing "the races" and he would continue to hold the position of president through 1939. This enterprise would become one of the leading aviation events in the world.

Lou firmly believed that women's increased participation in the field of aeronautics was imperative to aviation's progress and acceptance. In 1929, Lou established the Cleveland Pneumatic Tool Race/Aerol Trophy Race for women pilots. This race was a derby that began in Santa Monica, California and concluded in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1930, the derby began in Long Beach, California and finished in Chicago, Illinois. Today it is also known as the

Women's Air Derby/National Women's Derby and the victor was awarded the Aerol Trophy, named after Lou's patented shock absorber. At the 1931 races, it was established as a perpetual classic free-for-all closed course women's race.

Winners of the Aerol Trophy included; Phoebe Fairgrave Omlie (1929), Gladys O'Donnell (1930 & 1932), Maude Irving Tait (1931), and Mary "Mae" Haizlip

(1933). In 1934, he also sponsored the $25,000 Louis W. Greve Trophy Race. The Greve Race was a high-speed closed course event. All airplanes "ships" were required to have a 550 cubic-inch (or less) engine
displacement. The engine size restriction was implemented to encourage greater speed and efficiency in the lower-power airplane groups. This would also encourage other aviation innovations other than sheer engine size and power.

A victory would be dependant on pilot skill, airplane design and luck.

Winners of the Greve Trophy included; Lee Miles (1934), Harold Neumann
(1935), Michael Detroyat (1936), R.A. Kling (1937), Tony Levier (1938), and
Art Chester (1939).

The aviation arena was a tight knit group of pioneers. Jimmy Doolittle, Roscoe Turner, Amelia Earhardt, Charles and Anne Lindbergh and many foreign aviators were some of the guests at the Greve summer home located at Mentor-on-the-Lake during "The Nationals".

Louis Greve presenting  the Putnam Trophy to Florence Klingensmith for Amelia Earthart

Louis William Greve passed away suddenly on February 2nd, 1942 with his wife, Elsie, at his side. Telegrams and letters poured in from around the world to his wife and his three children Janice Roberts, Fred Greve, and Doris

Wagenlander. Cleveland Pneumatic Tool was in the midst of an $8,000,000 expansion to fill WWII war orders, primarily for landing gear.

The Cleveland News Obituary, on February 3rd 1942, quoted Frederick Crawford as saying "Mr. Greve was very thorough in detail and far-seeing in his planning. His was the inspiration, which brought the air races here and kept them going.

Despite his accomplishments, he was completely unassuming". Major John Berry,
who also worked closely with Lou in conducting the races said, " Mr. Greve was one of the most vital factors in the development of aviation. Cleveland and aviation owe a great deal to Mr. Greve".

All individuals involved in the National Air Races were valuable and significant to the development and advancement of aviation. The races were a launching pad for aviation innovation and acceptance. It is important to recognize the contributions of the companies, civic leaders, organizers, pilots, designers, sponsors, volunteers, and patrons. Many pilots lost their lives. They were brave visionaries with a passion for flight. May they rest in peace and forever be remembered for their heroisms and contribution.

Note: The Western Reserve Historical Society (Crawford Museum) Library in Cleveland, Ohio holds the National Air Race archives, donated by managing director, Mr. Clifford Henderson.

Researched and written by Elizabeth (Betsy) Kidd
E-mail - FlyRight65@aol.com -